TSA May Let Non-Fliers Go to Gates

The Transportation Security Administration is testing whether it can ease a post-9/11 policy that bars people from meeting relatives and friends as they come off flights.

A test program at Dallas/Fort Worth and Detroit airports could pave the way for other airports to allow non-travelers through checkpoints to meet passengers or shop at stores and restaurants.

"There are a lot of airports that would like people without boarding passes to have access to concessions," said Michael Conway, a spokesman for Detroit Metro Airport, which starts its test next week. Dallas' test started last week.

The TSA began requiring boarding passes at checkpoints after it took over airport security in 2002 -- largely to reduce the number of people getting screened and ease lines, said Steve Martin of the Airports Council International.

Letting non-travelers back in security lines "adds to the congestion and the difficulty of screening," said aviation security consultant Billie Vincent.

The TSA says it won't waive boarding-pass requirements if it would lengthen lines or weaken security, and notes that the test is small. Only guests at hotels inside the Dallas and Detroit airport terminals can go through security without boarding passes, and they must be checked against terrorist watch lists.

"We are interested to evaluate how limited expansion . . . would work," TSA spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.

Pittsburgh International Airport is watching. The TSA blocked the airport's 2003 bid to let non-passengers beyond checkpoints. If the TSA's pilot program "is a success," airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said, "we might be able to persuade them to let us try it with the public."

Steven Brill, whose company Verified Identity Pass speeds up security for travelers who pass background checks, said his non-flying customers also should be allowed through checkpoints. The TSA pilot "establishes the concept that people who aren't boarding planes can go through and use the shops," Brill said.

Airlines currently can give airline club members and parents of young children "gate passes" that allow them through checkpoints.

The Dallas and Detroit airports say their waiver will let people at the airports' terminal hotels patronize dozens of shops and restaurants beyond security checkpoints. That helps attract tourists and conferences, said Jim Crites of the Dallas airport.

"For airports, it provides additional non-aeronautical revenue and passenger service," said aviation consultant Stephen Van Beek.

Martin of the Airports Council doesn't expect a major expansion of the test program because airports fear that non-travelers would back up security lines.

"I don't think we're going back to where it was" before 9/11, Martin said.